Brexit Britain from Abroad: Broken Britain, Weak May and Stalled Talks
EU Prepares for the Fall of May
Officials say Brussels is preparing contingency plans for May leaving before the new year and Britain holding early elections months later. An unnamed European leader told the British newspaper The Times, “There is the great difficulty of the leadership in Great Britain, which is more and more fragile. Britain is very weak and the weakness of Theresa May makes negotiations very difficult.”
Talks between British and EU negotiators were resuming Thursday in the sixth round of talks over Brexit. May is hoping her negotiators can secure a breakthrough and persuade the EU to start moving on to talks about a future trade deal even before there is a final deal on the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, what will become of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the “divorce bill.”
London has suggested that since an agreement is near on the divorce terms, trade talks should start immediately, but the Europeans have a different take.
Speaking Thursday, a top EU lawmaker, Sophie in ’t Veld, warned there has been little progress, saying, “A year-and-a-half has passed since the Brexit vote and we haven’t moved an inch and the situation is getting very, very worrying.” She accused the British government of not being clear about its negotiating position.
Britain Given Three Weeks to Decide Divorce Bill
The Brexit bill is estimated by the EU at around €60 billion ($70 billion). But the UK has insisted that it should be more like €25 billion.
Round six of Brexit negotiations on Thursday and Friday will continue to focus on the financial commitments, the status of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, and the future of EU/British citizens living abroad, who will be impacted by probable immigration changes.
Brexit Secretary David Davis insisted progress is being made behind the scenes and that Britain is serious about "safeguarding the rights of EU citizens" living in the UK after it exits the bloc.
Britain meanwhile is eager to begin long-term trade talks with the EU, as it readies plans to leave both the single market and customs union and instead pursue its own trade deal with bloc.
A EU source told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency that Brussels was prepared to commence trade negotiations after Christmas if the divorce bill is settled.
"Everything is ready (to start trade talks) on the first of January," the diplomat told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
Irish Border Provides a Stumbling Block in Talks
The impasse may block progress towards an interim agreement in December. The hope is that phase one discussions, the divorce talks, would reach “sufficient progress”, to allow negotiations to open in December on the future relationship between the EU and UK.
Talks in Brussels this week are about a stocktaking of progress so far, and a new “state of play” paper from the European Commission has upset the British delegation. It insists any frictionless border will only be possible if Downing Street gives commitments to avoid any “regulatory divergence” between the North and the Republic to allow goods to travel freely and unchecked across the Border because they meet the same regulatory standards.
Britain is understood to argue that while it will seek specific solutions to Northern Ireland’s problems, it does not wish to make such commitments at this stage.
Brexit Has Broken British Politics
Brexit is the biggest upheaval since 1945 in Britain's political and economic life - an enterprise of enormous complexity and consequence. It is all-consuming. Yet the project is being steered, if that is the right word, by an administration drained of political authority by a misjudged election and by a Conservative Party at war with itself.
Mrs Theresa May's premiership is shaped above all by her weakness. She is openly defied by her own ministers and held hostage to the mendacity and ambition of Mr Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary. The Tories are as divided as ever about Britain's relationship with its continent. Everyone backs Brexit, or so they pretend. They cannot agree on what it means.
You could say that the party has been here before. During the 19th century, it was broken by the Corn Laws, and in the early 20th, by an argument about imperial trading preferences. This time, though, Britain's travails run deeper than Tory infighting. The opposition Labour Party has chosen this moment to turn for its leader to the far distant fringes of left-wing politics.
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